Esther Phillips moved around from label to label and from style to style throughout most of the 1950s and '60s. After signing with the Kudu label in the early '70s, Phillips released three albums that are among the finest in her catalogue. Jazzy, funky R&B arrangements complete with horns, light strings, and Fender Rhodes, and smoothly grooving rhythm sections provide context for Phillip's distinctive vocals, which sound both thin and rich, smooth and gritty at once.
The Phillips entry in the JAZZ MOODS series collects the best tracks from the singer's Kudu output. From the smoldering cover of Eddie Floyd's "'Til My Back Ain't Got No Bone" to the drowsy blues of Duke Ellington's "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good," Phillips is in fine voice here, and the musicians on hand lend superb support. Her disco-inflected version of "What a Difference a Day Makes" turns Dinah Washington's version on its head, her rendition of "Use Me" smoothes out the slinky funk of Bill Withers's original, and her impassioned interpretation of Gil Scott-Heron's "Home Is Where the Hatred Is" is near-perfect. These recordings are classic early-'70s soul: sophisticated, earthy, and as compelling today as when they were released.